Low fat libel
It’s day one in what should prove to be a lively libel battle between two purveyors of celebrity diets.
French diet and diet book bestseller, Jean-Michel Cohen is being sued by Dr Pierre Dukan, who’s Dukan Diet has seemingly attracted a phalanx of celebrity calorie counters from Jennifer Lopez through to the Duchess of Cambridge (formerly Kate Middleton) and sister.
Their battle centres around various claims made by Cohen that upset Dukan and comments made by Cohen in an interview with a French magazine that suggested the only persons to benefit from Dukan’s diet would be those prescribing it, peddling it or making the pills.
Dukan took exception to this and is demanding EUR15,000 in libel damages (libel being a far tamer affair in France than the UK in terms damage) but with a suggestion there could be millions in lost earnings from diet-related books and other spin-offs.
In spite of their celebrity acclaim, both diets have come in for criticism by nutritionists so there may – as Cohen is vigorously advancing in his defence – be medical and other (he claims this to be ‘unanimous’) support for his views.
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French libel law does not expose defendants to the same level of exposure to huge damages awards and opportunistic libel tourism as English law and the English courts. The law is rooted far more in the European Convention right to freedom of expression and the long established 'droit de la presse' which was enacted back in 1881. Under French law a claimant in a libel has to show that there has been publication in France and that the publication referred to the claimant and had a defamatory meaning. On the defence side there is, as under English law, a public interest or importance element but that is measured alongisde there being a serious investigation of the facts and no trace of personal malice - so the courts look at the truth in the statement and that it was made in good faith. So it will be interesting to see how the current case plays out as there may well be (and arguably is) evidence to substantiate the truth in Cohen's comments but it may come down to whether his commenting on true facts was done in good faith or whether the intent was to get one over a rival purveyor of diets.